Eat This For Healthy Summer Skin

Warmer weather is finally upon us, and with that, it seems everyone is trying to look and feel their best while taking advantage of the outdoors. Weight management is certainly a huge part of that, with everyone trying to increase their exercise and improve their diet, but surprisingly skincare is another topic I hear come up all the time. We not only want to strut in those cute summer jeans but we also want our skin to glow while we’re doing it. Am I right?

Given all the creams and topical potions that abound to keep your skin at its best, many often overlook the power of nutrition in giving your skin true, lasting vitality. Nourishing our skin from the inside is just as important as protecting it on the outside.

Maybe it’s time to rethink that skin care routine and focus on food, not formulas. What you eat every day can make a big impact on how both you and your skin function.

What foods are best for that? Have a read through for some easy summer diet do’s and don’ts to keep you glowing all year long.

10 Foods for Youthful Skin

1. Berries

Berries are chocked full of antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants help us fight off free radical damage which is, unfortunately, an unavoidable consequence of the world we live in. Our food, our household products, other environmental chemicals and even stress can create free radicals which damage our cells. Antioxidants help knock these out and restore proper balance and function.

2. Cruciferous veggies

Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy….they are all fantastic when it comes to your skin. They are high in vitamins A and C, which are important for our skin, and the phytochemicals in cruciferous can help reduce inflammation and promote estrogen balance, both which can be a huge boost to your epidermis.

3. Wild Salmon (and other Omega 3 fatty acids)

Healthy fats are key to healthy cells, and healthy cells equal healthy skin. Wild salmon is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids, known for their powerful role in reducing inflammation. There are more Omega 3 sources besides salmon, however. Other animal sources include mackerel, sardines, tuna, and anchovies. Plant-based sources include chia seeds, hemp hearts, flax seed, and walnuts.

4. Avocado

This tasty fruit is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants which helps keep skin supple and ward off the effects of aging. More reason for some guacamole when the weather heats up!

5. Nuts

Yet another fantastic fat source that is helpful for our cells and also contains a host of skin-protecting antioxidants. Additionally, they are high in fiber, which may not seem directly related to your skin, but anything that supports digestion and promotes regular elimination will help detox your skin and body as well.

6. Coconut oil

We are still on a fat kick here. As you can tell, getting good sources of healthy fats in your diet is key. A fat-free diet is not the way to healthy skin. Coconut oil is another of those powerhouse fats. It has potent anti-microbial properties to ward off bacteria throughout our body and can support our immune system. All of this, in turn, promotes healthier skin. Easy ways to use coconut oil would be with sautéing, using as a fat in baking, or mixed into smoothies. Personally, I like to use full-fat coconut milk in making chia seed pudding to get in a healthy dose.

7. Bone broth

Fluids are super important for keeping out cells well hydrated, so bone broth can certainly help with that, but it’s also a major source of collagen. Collagen, which tends to decrease with age, is what keeps our skin firm and elastic. A little bone broth can go a long way in increasing hydration and giving our skin the building blocks to repair and restore the collagen in our skin. Use as a warm evening beverage or mix into soups or other dishes that call for broth.

8. Fermented foods

We know that fermented foods, or foods rich in natural probiotics, are good for our gut. A healthy intestinal tract equals good digestion and good digestion shows on our skin. When we are absorbing our nutrients properly and eliminating toxins on a regular basis, it will produce noticeable results on the outside as well as the inside. Eat fermented foods daily to balance your gut bacteria and keep that digestive process running smoothly. Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, water kefir, kombucha, tempeh, pickled veggies, and miso.

While some dairy products are fermented as well, best to keep those to a minimum as dairy is often implicated in inflammation and skin issues.

9. Cilantro

I know many have a love/hate relationship with this herb, but if you are a cilantro lover out there, more reason to use it early and often! Cilantro contains chlorophyll, which has powerful detoxifying properties in the body. Cilantro also supports liver detoxification, which may help reduce or prevent acne by helping rid your liver of toxins more quickly and efficiently. Sprinkle cilantro on anything and everything. Even add to smoothies or pressed homemade juices.

10. Leafy greens

I can’t say enough good things about leafy green vegetables. Kale, spinach, chard, romaine….they are all great sources of iron, calcium, B vitamins and fiber. More importantly for your skin, they are a good boost to your liver for detoxifying the body. As we’ve said before, detoxing from the inside will show outside in your skin, so eat up a variety of greens daily to get that summer glow.

Can Diet Calm an Anxious Mind?

foods to calm your nervesAnxiety. It’s a common ailment. When my clients list their medical history, anxiety is often on the list. It seems to be more prevalent than ever. Maybe we are now recognizing and diagnosing it more often, but it is not uncommon for a person of any age, even children, to report various levels of anxiety.

What is anxiety? Many confuse it with stress, but it’s actually more than that. Whereas stress is the body’s physical response in the moment to a situation, anxiety differs in that the physical response continues far after the situation is over. It is almost as if there is no switch to turn “off.” These physical responses can include increased blood pressure, excessive trembling or sweating, chest pains, insomnia, headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle tension, constipation and/or diarrhea, indigestion, and even rashes or what feels like allergic reactions. The physical manifestations clearly can be many and may cause harm to one’s body over the long term.

The levels of anxiety can be varied as well. I am not a psychiatrist so I won’t get too far into this, but it can range from general anxiety all the way to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

The first step to take if you feel you have anxiety is to talk with a mental health professional. That way you can find out where you are on the spectrum and hopefully even find out where the anxiety is stemming from.

Second, which is where I come in, is supporting your body through this process with proper diet. Studies have shown that specific foods can play a huge part in reducing overall anxiety and improving the body’s ability to cope and recover.

While a healthy, balanced diet is what we typically recommend, let’s break it down into specific foods you can choose to support your brain and mental health.

Foods to Calm Your Nerves

1. Foods high in B Vitamins: Many of the B vitamins are known to help with anxiety and mood. Some great choices include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (at least one large handful of raw greens daily is ideal!) Spinach, kale, chard, collard greens
  • Avocado
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts
  • Beets
  • Bananas

2. Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids: The Omega 3’s (DHA and EPA) we know are very beneficial for the brain and may do wonders for your mood. These are foods such as….

  • Seafood including wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies
  • Plant sources with pre-cursors to DHA and EPA include flax seed, hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts
  • High-quality fish oil supplement

3. Fermented foods: Numerous studies have shown that our gut microbes talk to our brain. Crazy, isn’t it? Supporting a healthy gut environment, therefore, is an important consideration for our mental health. Fermented foods include:

  • Cultured dairy products, such as high-quality yogurt (few ingredients, low sugar), kefir, buttermilk, cultured butter
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles and other pickled veggies
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Natto

4. Foods high in antioxidants: Inflammation can definitely put stress on our brains. Fight inflammation with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory foods. Antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, can also help increase the body’s production of dopamine.

  • Anthocyanins: blueberries, cherries, grapes, blackberries, pomegranates, red cabbage, purple asparagus
  • Vitamin C foods: Oranges, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, mango
  • Others: goji berries, dark chocolate, herbs and spices (especially turmeric)!

5. Hydrate!: While not a food, keeping up good fluid intake is so important! Dehydration increases stress on the body which can only exacerbate anxiety. While straight up water is a great choice, teas can also have a very calming effect on the body. Aim for 8 cups per day and even more if sweating excessively.

Foods That May Stress an Already Anxious Mind

While eating more of certain foods can be helpful, we also need to cut out those foods that are increasing stress on your body. These are likely nothing new to you, but they are good reminders!

1. Caffeine

Not everyone reacts adversely to caffeine, but if you are one of those who do, caffeine can definitely raise your anxiety level. Try cutting it out for awhile to see how you respond. On a personal note, someone in my own family did this recently and it did wonders for their mood and overall stress level!

2. Sugar

No surprise here, but sugar increases inflammation, raises blood sugar, and overall is harmful for your brain. Dial it back and choose naturally sweetened foods like fruit instead.

3. Gluten

For some, gluten can be very inflammatory and therefore impact your mood and well-being. Try taking a gluten vacation for a couple of weeks and see how you feel.

4. Processed foods, especially fast food

Another no-brainer, but fast food and other highly processed foods are very low in actual nutrition and high in refined carbs, sugars and additives. Ditch the drive-through and seek out healthier alternatives.

5. Artificial sweeteners

A component of many processed foods, I single these out because they may be harmful to our guts and therefore impact brain health. Some of my clients have even reported headaches and other reactions from these sweet additives. Go for the natural sugar if forced to choose but in very small amounts.

6. Avoid any foods you are allergic or sensitive to

Some of you, knowingly or unknowingly, may be suffering from food sensitivity reactions. These reactions cause inflammation which can exacerbate stress and anxiety. If you aren’t sure which foods are causing you problems, an elimination diet can be a good first step. Seek guidance from an RD like myself to help tailor such a plan or dig deeper if the offending foods are elusive. For difficult cases, I like using MRT food sensitivity by Oxford Biomedical for decisive answers (www.nowleap.com).

 
Hopefully, this gives you a few specific food ideas to get started! Again I will reiterate that if you are struggling with anxiety, seek professional help. Don’t do this on your own. Along with expert advice, change up your diet to give your brain the support it needs!

 

Can you fight your genes? The importance of healthy lifestyle factors in gene expression.

Genetics. It is a hot topic right now. Well, it has been a hot topic for quite some time, ever since the human gemone project was completed in 2003. We now have the ability to look at someone’s unique DNA and assess risk for a host of health conditions. In many cases, we do not even fully understand the impact of DNA aberrations as many abnormalities have not yet been well studied.

Genetics is also very hot in the nutrition world right now. Why? Because we now have advanced testing that can give us specific information related to how a person’s body responds to various inputs: diet, stress and the environment. We are also uncovering specific genes related to body weight, blood sugar control, brain health, autoimmune conditions, etc. 23andme.com, which you have likely heard of, is one of the leading companies in this arena right now providing raw genetic data to clients across the country.

While this information is useful (and believe me, it can be really, really useful), there is also the danger of believing our genes determine our destiny. It is a common belief that if you have genes for obesity, for example, that at some point you will become obese. That same can be said for alzheimers disease or celiac disease. The thinking is that if your genes point you in any one of these directions, there is nothing you can do to avoid the progression. Might as well eat that doughnut and sit on the couch a little longer because at the end of the day, what can you do to stop it?

Thankfully, that is not true! Lifestyle choices DO matter, and they matter critically when it comes to gene expression. The key point is this: just because you have “bad” genes does not mean that they will express. Take the person with genes for celiac disease. There are actually many people who have those genes and yet never get the disease. How can that be?

Well, in celiac disease, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano, you need three things for the celiac gene to turn “on.” You need to have the gene, obviously. You need to have gluten in the diet. And you need to have an environmental trigger. Ah, an outside trigger! That is one of the key ways genes express. Take a moment and think about what an outside or environmental trigger might be……..

Yep, likely you named a few. How about emotional stress? Physical stress (extremely hard labor, over-exercising)? Poor diet? Substance abuse? Illness? Fatigue/lack of sleep? Toxins?

That brings me to the latest study I read that hit home on this very fact. Lifestyle influences genes. Your genes do not determine your destiny….. necessarily.

The study, conducted in the UK, looked at genetic data and self-reported lifestyle choices from over 360,000 middle-aged subjects. Their primary interest was to see how various lifestyle factors affected the risk for obesity in people with genetic markers predisposing them to excess weight.1

When they analyzed their data, three points stood out. Those with a lower socioeconomic status showed an increased risk for obesity. Presumably this is due to poorer diet choices, increased stress, and other factors related to being low-income. Those with regular exercise showed a significant decrease in their risk for obesity, as well as those subjects with regular alcohol consumption. While clearly more studies need to be done, we can definitely start to see that certain lifestyle choices play a role in how genes express.

What is the take home message then? Drink more alcohol? No, sorry, this is not an article sponsored by Smirnoff. The main message is this: consider your lifestyle choices more than your genes.

Think of it like this, as I learned in a recent webinar by Dr. Ben Lynch. “Bad” genes suggest susceptibility, not cause. Knowing your genes allows you to understand where you are susceptible, but it does necessarily determine your fate. So, as much as you can, take your health into your own hands.

Don’t let anyone tell you diet doesn’t matter. Don’t let anyone tell you exercise doesn’t matter. Don’t let anyone tell you stress doesn’t matter. It all matters. Obviously no one can achieve perfection in any of these areas, but do what you can. It not only makes you feel better, but your genes feel better too!

If your lifestyle just isn’t up to par and you feel lost, please reach out! That is what dietitians are for! The focus of my job is food and healthy lifestyle and I have LOTS of pertinent information to share. Drop me a line!

1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170906103749.htm

Hitting Home the Importance of Fiber

I know, you probably think you have heard enough about fiber over the years. Well guess what, you haven’t. We certainly talk a lot about fiber but Americans continue to eat less than is recommended. The average American maybe eats 15g of fiber per day, and we are supposed to get at least 25-38g (female vs male) in a 24-hr period. That might even be conservative given that fiber intake in other cultures can reach levels much higher.

Previously we have always hyped up fiber for its benefits in weight control, heart health, and digestion. It helps to keep us full, which decreases overall caloric intake, and fiber is associated with improved cholesterol and blood pressure. Fiber also bulks up stools and helps keep us regular. Clearly, it is an essential part of our diet.

But its importance is becoming even clearer as we delve deeper into the studies on the complex system of microbes living in our digestive tract, the “microbiome” as we call it. Study after study is showing that the type of microbes living within us either contribute to good health or detract from it, and studies also show that the types of foods we consume, particularly fiber, play a huge role in determining its overall influence.

For example, a recent study came out showing that walnuts might help support healthy flora in the gut.1 Rats given diets supplemented with walnuts showed an increase in the diversity of bacterial species in their guts over the non-supplemented animals. Walnuts acted as a pre-biotic food, feeding the beneficial bacteria and helping their colonies increase. While we have many known prebiotic foods already (I have handouts on these!), walnuts, at least to my knowledge, have never been on that list. Better get to adding it!

So yay, walnuts are good. But the thing is, as more of these studies are done, I think we will find that all fibrous foods are prebiotic to various extents. In fact, diversity of fiber is probably the key to optimal diversity of gut microbes. These one-off studies, while helpful no doubt, are to many people a simple suggestion to add a few more walnuts here or there, or whatever food the researchers are reporting on that week.

In reality, the take home message is that we need lots of fiber, every day, from whole foods sources, and we need to get rid of the non-fibrous, nutrient-empty foods that clog up our diet. A handful of walnuts in addition to your morning bagel and venti coffee is not going to cut it. We need to be intentional about the choices we make and ensure our meals are full of diversity and fiber.

What does this look like? I think that is the biggest hurdle for most. The grocery stores are not exactly helpful in this area as they seek to entice us with processed and “convenient” options, most of which are extremely low in fiber. Meals still can be quick, but you have to think ahead and make careful choices. To get you started, here are a few ideas:

Breakfast:

1. Yogurt bowl: Grass fed Greek yogurt with ¼ cup granola, 1 tbsp flax seed, 1 tbsp hemp hearts, ½ cup blueberries, ¼ cup chopped walnuts, 1 tbsp honey
2. Oatmeal: ¾ cup oatmeal with 1 tbsp flax seed, 1 tbsp hemp hearts, ½ cup berries, ¼ cup chopped walnuts or other nut, 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup. Alternatively, instead of oats, use cooked quinoa as your base and add same ingredients.
3. Egg scramble: 2 eggs, 1 cup diced mixed veggies, ¼ cup grated cheese, ½ banana on the side
4. Toast & Fruit: Piece of whole grain toast with 1 tbsp almond butter with apple slices or other fruit
5. Chia seed “pudding”: Chia seeds soaked in coconut milk, then add ingredients just as you would with the yogurt bowl
6. Breakfast smoothie: Milk of your choice, protein powder, frozen berries, 1 tbsp flax or chia, handful of spinach or kale, sweetener if needed (try stevia)
7. Egg “hash:” Take cooked kasha groats and top with egg cooked sunny side up, add black beans or baked sweet potato on the side.

Lunch/Dinner:

1. Sandwich: High fiber whole wheat bread with deli meat or PB&J.
2. Wrap: Whole wheat or gluten-free tortilla w/ hummus, leafy greens, deli meat
3. Soups: chicken/veggie, bean soup, etc
4. Stir-fries over quinoa or brown rice
5. Pasta using whole wheat noodles and meat/veggie sauce
6. Curries

Snacks:

1. Piece of fruit with handful of nuts
2. High fiber protein or granola bar
3. Kale chips
4. Homemade whole wheat or bran muffins
5. Veggies dipped in hummus or bean dip

See? So many options besides cereal or the morning pastry. A million more ideas instead of hamburgers or grab n’ go sandwich on white bread. You just have to be intentional. No, most often you cannot simply walk into a store or restaurant and find one of these options on your way into work. You have to plan ahead and do a little prep in advance.

Remember, health doesn’t just happen. You have to work at it. Anyone training their body for an athletic event knows this. It’s the same with your diet. YOU have to make it happen. So no more excuses about not having time or not being to find these things at your local Starbucks, ok?

Go to the grocery store after work and have these ideas ready to go. Pack along a cooler or other mode of food transport so you can take these things with you. Do not let others dictate what you eat for sake of convenience. Make it happen! Your body (and especially your gut microbes) will thank you.

1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170728100832.htm

Diet Diaries Go High Tech

ID-100129490You can ditch the pen and paper. Keeping track of what you eat has never been easier. First there were online diet diaries where you could easily log in from anywhere and record every morsel that passed your lips. Now these programs are available as apps on your phone, making diet tracking literally at the tip of your fingers whenever and wherever.

Wait, what was that? You don’t keep a diet diary? Well if weight loss is your goal, which it is for a large portion of our population, a diet diary may just be that kick you need to get things moving in the right direction. That’s what makes the ease of these phone apps so exciting. I know many of you, in fact, are already using them. Keep up the great work!

Many of you have probably already heard that recent research has shown that participants who kept food journals lost almost twice as much weight as their non-journaling companions. Such a simple tool can produce measurable and lasting results. Diet diaries make you more mindful of what you put in your mouth and also provide a great way to track caloric intake so that adjustments can be made as needed. Without any type of tracking it’s extremely easy to underestimate the amount of fat, carbohydrates and total calories you are eating. I see it all the time with my weight loss patients. Those that aren’t journaling tend to eat more than they think they are, even when they are supposedly eating “healthy.” Larger portions and mindless snacking add up. My most successful clients track what they eat, even if just for a season.

Now, many of you already know that I preach an intuitive eating approach to dieting. I don’t like diets and I don’t like strict food rules. In general I don’t even like being obsessed about writing down everything you eat. However I do believe that diet journaling for a certain period of time can be extremely effective in resetting eating patterns and helping people become more mindful about how and what they are eating. This is not a forever thing; I don’t personally keep a diet diary, but they are a useful tool and I highly recommend them as an initial part of a weight loss strategy.

The following are a couple of online trackers and/or phone apps that have come recommended by clients or colleagues. I suggest having a browse and seeing which one might work best for you. Try a few and get a feel for them. Each are slightly different in their format and set-up and you may find one that resonates with you better than another.

Cron-O-Meter (www.cronometer.com)
My Net Diary (www.MyNetDiary.com)
SparkPeople (www.SparkPeople.com)
LiveStrong (www.livestrong.com/calorie-counter-mobile/)
Fat Secret (www.FatSecret.com)
Lost It! (www.LoseIt.com)
Slim Kicker (www.SlimKicker.com)
Food Scanner (http://tracker.dailyburn.com/foodscanner)
Noom (www.noom.com)

This list is definitely not exhaustive. There are so many and new ones pop up all the time! Give this handy tool a try and see if your weight loss efforts don’t improve dramatically. Good luck!

Do let me know if there are other apps that you like and I will update this post. I’m always on the lookout for great apps to recommend to my tech-savvy clients!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net